Eight is More Than Enough? Avalon Group Homes Square Off Against Dallas (Again).

Categories: The Courts

avalonhome.jpg
An Avalon home in Fort Worth.
As we've mentioned before, Dallas has been grappling for some time with how to regulate the city's nearly 280 group homes, those halfway houses and assisted-living facilities that are protected by federal housing laws.

But the operator of 14 North Texas group homes for Alzheimer's patients isn't waiting for the city to sort all that out. It filed a lawsuit in federal court this month, alleging that the city is violating the federal Fair Housing Act by enforcing a limit of eight unrelated disabled people under one roof. The company, Avalon Residential Care Homes, also claims the city is retaliating for a previous lawsuit it filed over a decade ago.

Avalon first tangled with the city in 1997, when it opened its first Alzheimer's group home on Glendora Avenue. Codes required that it be 1,000 feet from other group homes for the disabled, and after calls to the city and state turned up none, the Glendora location appeared kosher.

But it wasn't long before someone complained, pointing out two nearby facilities for the disabled. Never mind that the homes were unlicensed and operating illegally, and that Avalon couldn't possibly have looked them up. The city ordered the company to shutter the group home.

Avalon sought a special use permit, and the City Plan Commission staff recommended approval. But the commission denied the request. The company fired back, filing a lawsuit in federal court. And as city lawyers tried to get the suit tossed, the United States Attorney's Office's Civil Rights Division stepped in, filing a brief slamming the city for violating the Fair Housing Act with onerous city codes. Dallas "may violate the Act when it applies its ordinances 'rigidly and in a manner blind'" to the needs of disabled people, the feds wrote, quoting a previous federal court decision.

And why, the U.S. Attorney's Office also wondered, was the city hassling a licensed group home for its proximity to the two unlicensed ones?

The concern is a snowball effect: Strict zoning discourages new group homes, and low occupancy caps render those that remain -- like Avalon's -- financially insolvent.
The feds' brief must have been persuasive, because the city and Avalon eventually settled. The Glendora house remained in business, and the company even expanded to new locations.

Now, some 10 years later, the city and Avalon are scuffling once again, this time over occupancy caps. Avalon now operates seven group homes in neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes, "several" of which house more than eight disabled adults, First Assistant City Attorney Chris Bowers tells Unfair Park in a written statement. He says, just as city lawyers did in the late 1990s, that Avalon should just set up shop elsewhere -- in multi-family apartments, a mixed-use zoning district or downtown, where the ordinance doesn't apply.

Neither Avalon's owner, Ruth Anne Seib, nor her attorney responded to calls for comment. But along with accusing the city of violating federal housing laws, Avalon claims that Dallas's enforcement amounts to little more than stale retribution.

Bowers says that the city is merely enforcing the law: "That is clearly not 'retaliation," he writes.


My Voice Nation Help
14 comments
Sort: Newest | Oldest
Guest
Guest

So, what we're saying is that eight may well be enough to fill their lives with love, but it's not enough to extract a profit even with the plate full of homemade wishes on the kitchen window sill.

Watching
Watching

If you live in a single family neighborhood, you don't want the house next door to have 8 mentals and their care-givers.   It's not just 8 people.  It's 8 + staff.   Multi-family zoned land is more expensive than single family.  That's why they want to plop these group homes in neighborhoods.  It's not for the good of the occupants; it's for the bottom line of the company.  Mass transit and shopping are much more available around multi-family neighborhoods.

Think what your house would be worth if someone built a group home for 8 next door.  You might as well expect to die there and let the mortgage company have your house back -- because no one would ever buy your house -- particularly a family with kids of any age.

Glad Dallas is standing up for homeowners.  Six unrelated adults in one house is bad enough for any neighborhood to cope with.  It would be nice if the same restrictions were placed on "immigrant" housing.

whodunnit
whodunnit

Could you explain this to the folks over at HUD? I think they would be very interested in hearing your views on this.

whodunnit
whodunnit

Someone needs to explain to Mr. Bowers (and Mr. perkins) that "enforcing" the City's laws, while violating Federal laws, is not an acceptable excuse.

Grumpy Demo
Grumpy Demo

Time for the DO to send an intern to the properties with a camera or a quick check of Google maps.

Are Avalon's properties being well maintained so that the residences' health and safety is protected?

J. Erik Jonsson
J. Erik Jonsson

I can't excuse the City for what it did to Avalon 15 years ago, but the single family occupancy restriction is an important part of protecting neighborhoods.

Wylie H.
Wylie H.

I understand your point, the problem is that Federal law clearly provides an exception in this case.  When the City puts on blinders and just merrily marches ahead, it tends to put itself in a precarious situation-- there are only so many exceptions to Federal law that Kay Bailey Hutchison and Eddie Bernice Johnson can deliver (they typically want a lot of money and need a fair amount of cooperation for that sort of thing).  Moreover, in this case, the City hasn't even made any effort to seek some sort of exception.

J. Erik Jonsson
J. Erik Jonsson

Not exactly.  The FHA expressly allows neutral occupancy limits designed to limit overcrowding unless the limit is so low as to eliminate group homes.

Wylie H.
Wylie H.

It's very difficult to do that while providing a high-quality service; if you cut corners, sure--- it's possible.

It's a matter of simple economics, you've got a certain fixed cost associated with running a group home.  Eight residents doesn't give you much in the way of economies of scale.

Thelawwon
Thelawwon

Scores of group homes in Dallas have been operating for years with no more than 8 residents.  Are you telling me that Avalon can't make a profit with 8 residents in each home?  

Wylie H.
Wylie H.

....and an eight person limitation effectively prohibits a group home from operating economically.  If the City wants an exemption from Federal law, they are perfectly free to hire Ray Hutchison..... then, coincidentally, maybe Kay Bailey Hutchison will take an interest.

Alternatively, the City could turn a blind eye while Eddie Bernice Johnson is given a silent interest in, say, the pay-per-view concession in the new convention center hotel.  Then, maybe, she might be persuaded to seek some change in federal law to allow these homes to be dumped in her district (especially now that she splits her time between DC and her condo in Victory Park).

BoPeep
BoPeep

By now, you would think the City would know not to mess with Uncle Sam. Are they stupid, or just persistent to the point of being ridiculous? Or, worse yet, do they think they can get away with it?

Wylie H.
Wylie H.

I really think it is time for Dallas to get a new City Attorney.  The present guy, Tom Perkins, seems to delight in fighting losing battles.  The common theme in a lot of these cases appears to be the City adopting a legally unsound position, then hoping it can use its financial muscle and multi-tentacled ability to harass to drive opposing parties into submission.

It doesn't do much for the City's image, to say the least.

Bill
Bill

Tom Perkins is use to getting away with his shenanigans because the feds have not enforced the laws in the past. Now, he is in culture shock, because he knows they are going to fry his ass and he is not used to such treatment. 

His days are limited and he knows it. 

Now Trending

Dallas Concert Tickets

From the Vault

 

Loading...